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King St. Pilot makes transit the priority

Thursday, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and city staff made their second presentation on the King St. Pilot, a plan that will hopefully alleviate congestion along the car-heavy corridor to make it more transit-friendly.

“What we are trying to do here is to improve transit service for the 65,000 passengers on the busiest transit route in the city,”said Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati, Director of Transportation Infrastructure Management with the City of Toronto. “That’s three times as many drivers who use the corridor. We are trying to move the most people the most efficient way.”

The pilot will cover six kilometres of King St., from Jarvis to Bathurst. The corridor would funnel drivers to parallel east-west routes like Queen St., Richmond, Adelaide, Wellington, or Front, while still allowing local drivers to access the street for short periods of time.

According to Gulati, making King St. completely car-free would take immense resources, as there are driveways and parking garages that can be accessed from that corridor. Instead, city staff has designed a plan allowing local residents to drive on King St., but only between intersections. These vehicles must turn right at the next traffic signal. Physical barriers will be used to prevent vehicles other than the streetcars from passing through the intersection.

There is also going to be designated spaces for short-term loading, deliveries, and taxis, something business owners indicated was a necessity.

Photo courtesy of City of Toronto.

“People will access the section of King that they need to access for their local trip,” Gulati said. “We are looking to have the amount of mixed traffic dialled down to such an extent that we expect to see streetcar improvements, but it is a pilot project and that’s what we want to learn from this.”

Cyclists, transit users, and emergency vehicles would be the only commuters allowed to cross intersections. However, there would be no dedicated bike lanes.

This particular corridor between Bathurst and Jarvis was chosen because it has the worst transit service on King St. The goal of this pilot would be to see additional improvements in reliability, speed, and capacity on the King St. streetcar — more people walking or using transit and less people driving.

The estimated budget level cost is $1.5 million, but that is bound to change once the design has been finalized after Thursday’s public meeting.

If all goes well, a final report will be presented at a June TTC board meeting and then will be sent to approval by City Council in July. The plan is to be able to implement the King St. Pilot by the Fall of 2017 or Spring 2018.

What do you think of the King St. Pilot? Let us know in the comments below!

Relief line alignment moves forward to council

Executive Committee voted to move forward the Relief Line and the Yonge Subway Extension for city council approval.

Next week, city council will vote to approve the Carlaw alignment for the Relief Line and move to start the “Transit Project Assessment Process.” The alignment for the southern section of the relief line will travel down Carlaw from north of the Go tracks at Gerrard Ave. to Queen St. East.

Council will also vote on advancing the planning and design of the Yonge Subway Extension.

The discussion about these two transit projects began with statements by York Region chair Wayne Emmerson, Makham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, and Richmond Hill Mayor Dave Barrow. Each city leader pledged their support for both the Relief Line and the Yonge North Extension and they be built concurrently.

The support for the relief line being built concurrently with the North Extension is significant since the extension will bring more people from the GTA into the downtown core and Line 1 is nearing capacity. Without the relief line, those new transit users won’t be able to use to get on the subway once they enter the city.

City councillors were given the opportunity to ask questions of the York region representatives, including joint-funding and their decision to oppose the creation of tolls, which would have provided much-needed revenue towards these projects. Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti spent most of his time at executive committee praising the provincial government for providing starting funds for both transit projects, despite the fact the amount is minimal. Toronto Mayor John Tory emphasized that it will take all three levels of government to move these projects forward, saying there is a distinction between funding for the planning of a project, and the construction of a project.

In the end, everyone agreed that more funding is needed for both the relief line and the Yonge Extension. This decision is a far cry from Tory’s threat last week to withdraw his support for the Yonge Extension unless the province provided more funding for the relief line. It appears as though Tory made a deal with the York mayors that he will support the extension if they publicly support his bid for the relief line.

A few amendments were added to the original report before it passed, including a cost-analysis of the northern section of the relief line and the renaming of that section as the “Don Mills Line”.

City Council will be held on May 24 at city hall.

Metrolinx signs contract with Alstrom as backup to Bombardier

Metrolinx announced Friday they have entered into a contract with Alstrom, a French transit agency specializing in integrated systems, to build 17 vehicles for the Finch West LRT project as well as 44 backup trains for the Eglinton Crosstown.

“We know for sure that Alstrom’s light rail vehicles work. They are currently producing quality vehicles on-time for Ottawa’s Confederation Line LRT Project,” a statement released by Metrolinx President and CEO John Jensen said. “We are going through a dispute resolution process with Bombardier but that could take 8-12 months, and we can’t wait that long to determine whether Bombardier will be able to deliver.

The vehicles were meant to be backups in case Bombardier is unable to deliver their trains on schedule. Metrolinx has been in a continuous legal feud with the Montreal-based agency. If Bombardier fulfills their contract for the Eglinton Crosstown and the 44 vehicles built by Alstrom aren’t needed, they will be reassigned to the Hurontario LRT project.

The contract was awarded for $529 million and includes an option for additional vehicles once the original 61 are built. The specific vehicle — the Citadis Spirit — was specifically designed for the Canadian market and can withstand winter conditions up to -38 degrees. Alstrom will also be providing Metrolinx with a new control centre to integrate the Go Transit network and a new signalling system for the Union Station Rail corridor, among other things.

“We are proud to continue our collaboration with Metrolinx as it seeks to link communities and deliver advanced public transit solutions to the greater Toronto area, and we are honoured by their renewed confidence in our products, solutions and teams,” said Angelo Guercioni, Managing Director of Alstom Canada, in a statement.

Alstrom has sold over 2,300 of these trains to 50 cities around the world.

NDP calls on Kathleen Wynne to fund relief line

BREAKING: NDP transit critic Cheri DiNovo calls on Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to commit to funding the relief line.

“The Mayor of Toronto and the TTC say that the relief line must be built before the Yonge line extension, or else there will be transit chaos,” she said in a statement. “But the premier seems to be more interested in saving Liberal seats north of Toronto than funding a subway project that transit experts say must come first.”

This statement was released on May 11, two days after Toronto Mayor John Tory said he would remove his support for the Yonge North Subway Extension unless the province supplied funding for the relief line. The Relief Line will provide an alternative for commuters travelling downtown from the west end of Toronto, rather than continue to funnel Torontonians into the singular central Yonge Line 1.

Line 1 will be at capacity by 2031.

More to come.

Who’s promising what for the relief line?

Toronto Mayor John Tory knows what the city needs and is not afraid to fight for it. Tuesday, in what may be a last desperate attempt to prove to the current provincial government he is not to be trifled with, Tory announced that he would remove his support for the Yonge North Subway Extension unless Ontario provided more funds for the relief line.

The Ontario government has informed the City of Toronto that they will be implementing a budget freeze, which means no new money will come in for this important project. Over the last few weeks, Tory has been meeting with other party leaders to see what they will be offering the city in terms of transit and infrastructure. Here is the rundown:

Liberals

Ontario’s 2017-18 budget indicates the province will continue to “support for the planning of the Downtown Relief Line in Toronto”, but no further funding was made available. Currently, Ontario has offered $150 million for the planning of this integral transit project.

Instead, the province is standing firm in their contributions via the gas tax program, which promises to double the municipal shares from two to four cents per litre by 2021.

Toronto Mayor John Tory may not have been given the right to toll the DVP and Gardiner Expressway, but the provincial government has permitted the city to implement a levy on “transient accommodations”. This will allow Toronto to tax hotels and short-term accommodations in order to generate much-needed revenue for infrastructure in the city.

Conservatives

Patrick Brown, leader of the Ontario Conservative Party, met with Mayor Tory at the beginning of May to outline further promises for social housing and funding for Toronto Community Housing Corporation— something the Liberal government did not allot money for in this year’s budget. The promises made included allowing TCHC to purchase natural gas independently instead of bulk buying from the Housing Services Corporation. The idea is that TCHC will be able to save money be negotiating better prices on natural gas. The city estimates savings of about $6.3 million.

Other inclusions in the PC plan: financial support of the Scarborough subway (actual contribution unknown), supporting TTC fares on SmartTrack RER, and pledged to intervene so that Bombardier trains for the Eglinton Crosstown arrive on time.

The Yonge Relief Line was not mentioned at all in the statement released following the meeting. It should also be noted that during the provincial budget release, Brown said he was not in favour of tolls or short-term accommodation levys.

NDP

Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario NDP Party, was the latest major politician to meet with Tory. She promised to provide one third of the repair costs for social housing if elected.

In a press release passed out to journalists following the Liberal budget, Horwath also announced the party would enter into a 50 per cent funding agreement with municipal partners to help pay for transit operating costs.

Horwath has not ruled out the use of tolls or short-term accommodation levies; although she has not said she has not clarified if she would implement such revenue tools.

Green Party

The Green Party is all for the use of tolls (dynamic tolling) and congestion charges, in addition to uploading the cost of maintaining and operating the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway back to the province.

The money collected from these tolls would be dedicated to transit, ensuring that those who choose to use alternative modes of transportation are able to use a modern and well-maintained system. This would also free up a couple billion dollars worth of funding the City of Toronto could use to build better transit infrastructure and maintain other roads within the city.

Tory threatens to stop Yonge extension until relief line funded

Toronto Mayor John Tory has threatened to remove his support of the Yonge North Subway Extension unless the province agrees to provide funding to help construct the relief line.

This announcement was made following a report that was released for approval by the Executive Committee on both transit projects, seeking approval for the alignment and design/planning stages. This new report also included the cost estimate for the relief line — $6.8 billion for the construction of the first phase of the project. There is little doubt the cost will continue to rise as the design of the line continues.

As of now, there is no dedicating funding from the federal or provincial government for the relief line. The Ontario Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, has promised $150 million for the planning of the project, but that’s it. According to a press statement released by the minister, the province has also notified city officials of a budget freeze in 2018,” which would leave no room for funding either of these projects at the municipal level.”

Del Duca doesn’t see this as a problem. “We’ve been at the table right at the start for both of these projects, by contributing $150-million to the Relief Line planning and design work, nearly three times the amount the City has committed, and $55 million towards the same work on Yonge North,” he said in the statement. “However, Mayor Tory just can’t take yes for an answer.”

What Del Duca fails to realize is that $150 million for the planning of the project will do nothing to help move the relief line along. It’s small change for a project as large as this. By 2031, the Yonge Line (Line 1) will be at capacity, unable to carry new riders. It’s important to remember the development of SmartTrack will not offer relief to Line 1. The many transit extensions being built prior to the relief line will actually drive traffic towards this central line, increasing capacity until it’s no longer feasible to operate.

That’s why Tory said at a press conference that he would not support the development of the Yonge North Subway Extension until the province changes their mind on funding this important project. The extension is a project supported by many Liberal candidates in the York region.

“We might have to consider just diverting our resources to other work,” he said to reporters. “If we are uncertain that the relief line will be funded or not, then why would we be devoting our time working on the Yonge Street North Extension because the two are very much interconnected.”

Tory emphasized that without provincial or federal funding, there is no way the City of Toronto can afford to build this critical subway line.

The new relief line, if approved by city council, will travel down Carlaw between Gerrard St. and Eastern. The next phase of the work will be to accelerate the planning and design of the southern part of the line, including developing the next budget estimates.

Are simple economics to blame for rising housing costs?

Toronto is undergoing a serious housing crisis — everyone is saying so! Experts, real estate agents, the media, and even politicians admit openly the cost of housing is getting out of control. And yet, even after months of knowing this fact, no one is doing anything about it.

Sure, the government is enacting rent control and a non-resident speculation tax. But this same government, whether municipal, provincial, or federal, hasn’t done what experts are claiming is the easiest and most effective thing they can do for the housing market: build!

“The only reason why prices rise is because there are more buyers than sellers,” explained Jon Love, CEO of KingSett Capital. “Prices rise for no other reason.”

Thursday, new statistics became available through the census that said Toronto has 5,000 fewer detached homes homes in 2016 compared to 2011. It’s what Love calls simple economics. When there are three people interested in purchasing one home, the problem isn’t foreigners or lack of regulation; it’s demand and supply. It means there aren’t enough homes for everyone.

Sure, we have lots of high-rise buildings popping up throughout the downtown core, but a family with three children most likely won’t want to live in an apartment building. Without diversity in housing, there will always be people left without.

It seems so simple; why is this so hard to understand? What is preventing people from building more family-friendly homes in Toronto and throughout the Golden Horseshoe?

Most people blame the NIMBYs — the people who claim they don’t want condos built in their back yard — or the bureaucratic red tape of development agencies. But Love says everyone is to blame. At the end of the day, he asks, “do we want to be Chicago, or Detroit?” A world-class city needs housing, daycare, parks, and transit — so, how do we get it?

First of all, the government needs to intensely invest in transit and open up surrounding geographies for development. If people who work in Toronto have the option of living in places like Hamilton, Barrie and Oshawa — with the possibility of commuting on an express train — many people will do so! An hour commute is not unreasonable if it means saving money on a home. This would also free up homes within the city for those who want or need it.

Why not take it even further and build on top of the rail, Love asks. The purpose of expanding the Golden Horseshoe through transit is to connect people and create communities and neighbourhoods along these hubs. This can’t be done if people have to walk for 30 minutes just to get to the bus.

Second of all, the city needs to encourage development zoning and encourage the building of low and mid-rise condominiums. “People are terrified of 60-story buildings,” Love said. “But mid-rise is fine! I would pre-zone areas to allow for that density.”

This type of variety in housing is necessary not only in order to accommodate the many types of people looking for homes in the GTHA., but also to allow for the immediate development of land in neighbourhoods that are against the building of tall condominiums. Pre-zoning would also reduce the number of complaints and bureaucratic tape that surrounds development. Instead of a developer purchasing land and then deciding what to do with it, the community would actually have a say in what kind of buildings or homes will be put in their neighbourhoods.

Finally, allowing a second kitchen within a home to be used as a secondary apartment, within designated areas, would be a short-term solution that would allow homeowners to rent our basements and provide housing for short-term occupancy.

These short and long term solutions were all suggested with the clear understanding that prices go up because there are more buyers than sellers, a concept Love says won’t be accepted until there is a significant change in public opinion.

The biggest problem is that NIMBY-ism and the fear of immigrants taking our land, jobs, and homes, are much more attractive for both the media and government agencies. Rather than stand with the experts, public servants are focusing on issues that will bring them votes, things like free prescription and lower electricity bills. Things only ever get done when the government is scared of losing power. If the public told governments to build, to increase the supply so that more people could purchase homes, it would have to do so. Until then, they will continue to blame tax foreigners and claim to help cool the market while families are left homeless.

It’s time the government consulted experts and remembered their university or college introduction to economics course — prices rise when the demand is higher than the supply. And here in the Golden Horseshoe, we have about as much demand as you can get.

Who will win Toronto’s votes?

Monday saw a battle to woo voters, with representatives from both the Conservative and Liberal Party of Ontario in Toronto to discuss their plans for housing and transit in the city.

After receiving little support in the provincial budget last week, Mayor John Tory sat down with Conservative Party Leader Patrick Brown Monday morning to discuss funding for social housing and SmartTrack.

The meeting itself was behind closed doors, but the media was given a press release following the exchange indicating PC promises to Toronto if elected into power in 2018. This included allowing Toronto Community Housing to purchase natural gas independently instead of bulk buying from the Housing Services Corporation. The idea is that TCHC will be able to save money be negotiating better prices on natural gas. The city estimates savings of about $6.3 million.

Other inclusions in the PC plan: financial support of the Scarborough subway (actual contribution unknown), supporting TTC fares on SmartTrack RER, and pledged to intervene so that Bombardier trains for the Eglinton Crosstown arrive on time.

The Yonge Relief Line, the project every transit and city building agency has indicated as its priority, was not mentioned in the statement. There was also no mention of allowing municipal sources of revenue such as tolls and short-term accommodation taxes — which makes sense considering Brown made it clear during the budget lockup that the Conservative Party was against both sources of revenue.

At the same time this statement was released, the Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca took questions from reporters in Etobicoke. In it, he re-stated that the Ontario Liberals are big supporters of Toronto and “no one was invested more than them” in the city.

The Liberal Party has only promised $105 million for the planning of the relief line.

Honestly, at this moment in time, it doesn’t seem like Toronto will win with either party. There is still no promise for further funding for social housing or important transit initiatives like the relief line — two things that are critical to the growth and survival of Toronto.

I wonder if the mayor is planning on speaking with the New Democratic Party to find out their views? During the budget lockup, NDP leader Andrea Horwath said she was committed “to a 50 per cent funding agreement along with its municipal partners” to help in operating costs for transit. It would be interesting to see what her commitment was to Golden Horseshoe Area.

It’s the perfect time to light a fire under Queen’s Park for more transit and housing — and Tory knows it. It’s about negotiating the best deal as soon as possible, because it’s all about the votes at the end of the day.

2017 budget highlights include health care, no new transit

Thursday, the Ontario Liberal government put forward the first balanced budget in the last decade.

“This budget is fiscally responsible,” Ontario Minister of Finance Charles Sousa said to reporters in budget lockup, prior to the Throne Speech. “Balancing the budget allows us to make these important investments — investments that have real meaningful impacts in people’s lives.”

The 2017 Ontario Budget, entitled A Stronger, Healthier Ontario, is meant to spearhead a balanced budget for the next three years. The document focuses greatly on health care and education, while investing less in infrastructure and transit. There are some special tidbits for families, including a 35 per cent reduction on hydro bills for eligible households, free prescription medication for children and young adults, and funding for work-related opportunities through a new Career Kick-Start Strategy.

Sousa was adamant the budget did not have anything to do with the impending provincial election.

“Our message for the people of Ontario is that we, together, have balanced the budget, have taken the precautions of assumed growth, and now we are taking the necessary steps moving forward,” he said. “We want to be competitive long term. These decisions we make today are not based on election times. They are based on long-term benefit for the people of Ontario.”

It’s important to note that despite the balanced budget, there still exists a projected total debt of $332.4 billion as of March 31, 2017.

Here are some of the highlights from the 2017 provincial budget:

Health care

The biggest announcements in the 2017 Ontario Budget was the Child and Youth Pharmacare benefit program, which will provide free prescription medications for everyone ages 24 and under — also called OHIP Plus. The coverage includes rare disease medications, cancer drugs, medication for diabetes, asthma, mental health, HIV, and birth control. The new OHIP program will be effective as of Jan. 1, 2018.

The cost of this program, which was left out of the budgetary documents and press releases, is $465 million annually.

Ontario will also expand access to safe abortion by providing publicly funding the new abortion pill Mifegymiso.

Other investments include:

  • $9 billion over 10 years to support construction of new “hospital projects” across the province
  • $518 million to provide a three per cent to help decrease wait times and maintain elective surgeries, among other hospital services.
  • $15 million for primary care and OHIP-funded non-physician specialized health services
  • $74 million over three years for mental health services, including supportive housing units and structures psychotherapy

Transportation

The provincial government, while making significant investments in health care and education, chose to maintain investments on pre-existing projects rather then provide new funding for further transit networks like the downtown relief line.

In addition to the province’s continual $190 billion investment over a 13-year period, which started in 2014, Ontario is investing an additional $56 billion in public transportation for the GO Network and other pre-existing infrastructure projects like the Eglinton Crosstown, Hamilton Rapid Transit, and the Mississauga Transitway.

The budget indicates the province will continue to “support for the planning of the Downtown Relief Line in Toronto”, but no further funding was made available. Currently, Ontario has offered $150 million for the planning of this integral transit project.

Instead, the province is standing firm in their contributions via the gas tax program, which promises to double the municipal shares from two to four cents per litre by 2021.

Other transit projects receiving funding include:

  • $1 billion for the second stage of the Ottawa LRT
  • $43 million for proposed transit hub in downtown Kitchener, which will connect to GO and Via Rail.

Housing

The province introduced their Fair Housing Plan, which is meant to help increase affordability for buyers and renters. The cost of housing has increased up to 33.2 per cent since 2016. Ontario has proposed a non-resident speculation tax to help cool the market. This will be a 15 per cent tax on the price of homes for non-Canadians, non-permanent residents, and foreign corporations. If passed, this tax would be effective as of April 21, 2017. Ontario has also committed to improving rent control in Ontario to include units occupied on or after Nov. 1, 1991.

Toronto Mayor John Tory may not have been given the right to toll the DVP and Gardiner Expressway, but the provincial government has permitted the city to implement a levy on “transient accommodations”. This will allow Toronto to tax hotels and short-term accommodations in order to generate much-needed revenue for infrastructure in the city.

The authority to implement such a tax will also be extended to all “single-tier and lower-tier municipalities”, with the understanding that 50 per cent of the funds accumulated from the levy be given to the municipality’s regional tourism organization.

An amendment to the City of Toronto Act will have to be approved before such a levy becomes a reality.

Other investments include:

  • $200 million over three years to improve access for up to 6,000 families and individuals to housing assistance and services
  • $125 million over five years for multi-residential rebates to help encourage development
  • $70-100 million for a pilot project throughout GTHA to leverage land assets to build affordable housing
  • Proposed amendment of legislation that would grant Toronto authority to add a levy to property tax on vacant homes.
  • Frozen municipal property taxes for multi-residential properties where taxes are high

Child Care

Ontario will support an access to licensed childcare for an additional 24,000 children ages four and under. The $200 million in funding allotted to this project for 2017-18 includes a mix of subsidies and the creation of physical spaces for childcare.

In fall of 2016, Ontario spent $65.5 million to create 3,400 licensed childcare spaces.

Climate Change

This year’s budget didn’t put as much of an emphasis on the province’s environmental efforts. Through the cap and trade program, the government has accumulated $472 million in funding that must be re-invested into programs that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This specific funding was from Ontario’s first carbon auction in March.

Through these auctions, Ontario expects to raise $1.8 billion in 2017-18 and then $1.4 billion annually following that year. Examples of where this money can be spent include promoting electric vehicles, modernizing transit, preserving lands, enhancing research, and Green Investment Fund initiatives.

Other investments include:

  • $377 million through the Green Ontario Fund to make it easier for households and businesses to adopt proven low-carbon technologies.
  • $200 million in funding for schools to improve energy efficiency and install renewable energy technologies
  • $85 million to support additional retrofits in social housing
  • $50 million in commuter cycling infrastructure like cycling lanes and barriers
  • $22 million in electric vehicle charging infrastructure

 

More to come.

Rail deck park is still on the table, but how to fund it?

Rail Deck Park is still on the table for Toronto, as the city debates whether the one billion dollar price tag on the 21-acre park is plausible.

Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat moderated an urban planning symposium, held by the Urban Land Institute Toronto (ULI) Tuesday, that discussed the implementation strategy for the controversial park project. In the fall of 2016, the city announced they would prepare a strategy to build a park between Bathurst St. to Blue Jays Way. The Rail Deck would use airspace above the railyard in downtown Toronto and close up a gap that divides the downtown area and makes it less walkable.

The park is controversial because it is incredibly expensive to build, estimated at one billion dollars as a starting point. That price tag doesn’t include the cost of purchasing the air rights over the rail deck, which is a necessity. A developer has already signed an agreement for air rights over the space and isn’t willing to go down without a fight. The city will have to work hard to obtain the space to create a park in downtown Toronto. It is a worthwhile venture though. It would be one of the city’s last chances to create a large green space downtown as open space becomes increasingly rare.

According to a November Forum Research Poll of Toronto residents, 51 per cent of respondents supported the proposed park and 38 per cent opposed it. Not surprisingly, 46 per cent of respondents felt that the space should not be paid for with public dollars. Though there are several issues remaining on how to budget the rail deck park, Keesmaat has confirmed there is already $350 million invested from developers that is earmarked for public space.

The Rail Deck Park is an ambitious, but worthwhile project. Green space in the downtown area promotes healthy tourism and is relatively simple to upkeep. It also provides Torontonians with more outdoor space, and a carbon sink in the middle of an area full of pollution. Hopefully, the rail deck park can become Mayor Tory’s legacy, and it will be enjoyed for generations to come. Until then, it will be interesting see if the funding can be found.